The Beatitudes as a Roadmap to God by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted be permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:
are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
After 18 years of priesthood, I am still intimidated by the task of preaching about the beatitudes. They are the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the pinnacle of Jesus’ teaching about this brand new way of life that describes a true disciple. The beatitudes summarily express Jesus’ desire to turn the values of our world upside down, and unfortunately, while I deeply desire to follow Christ with all of my being, I am still a little disoriented from the consequent tumbling going on in my life. I know I have a long ways to go on the road of faith.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, addressed the beatitudes in the fourth chapter of his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth. He offers some very insightful reflections that are clearly the fruit of deep prayer and a long life as an intimate disciple of Christ. Most of what I will offer here comes from my prayerful reading of our German Shepherd’s insights.
Matthew the Evangelist was clear that while Our Lord directed much of His preaching and teaching to the crowds, which were filled both with disciples and those who were hearing Him for the first time, Jesus directed this portion of the Sermon to His disciples.
Jesus is saying that the mind and heart of the disciple are opened up to the beauty and meaning of the beatitudes while living the Faith, journeying with Christ and seeking to love Him above all else. Those living in union with Christ and being gradually transformed by grace are able to grasp the meaning of the beatitudes, which Pope Benedict calls “a sort of veiled interior biography of Jesus” (p.74).
The beatitudes are paradoxes, apparent contradictions. Humanity has been profoundly impacted by sin and thrown off the original track that God planned for us. Left to our own devices, we are wildly lost and confused. Jesus came to get us back on track and this process involves a dramatic reversal of our values. “When man begins to see and live from God’s perspective, when he is a companion on Jesus’ way, then he lives by new standards, and something of the eschaton, of the reality to come, is already present” (p.72).
The beatitudes are also promises from God. Our heavenly Father promises beatitude or “blessedness” to those who walk in His ways. This promised grace is the fruit of the mystery of the cross and the resurrection being applied to the disciple who is striving to live in union with Jesus.
We participate in the reality of Christ’s life which was filled with suffering and great joy at the same time. Pope Benedict states: “Al though Jesus’ messenger in this world is still living the story of Jesus’ suffering, the splendor of the resurrection shines through, and it brings joy, a ‘blessedness,’ greater than the happiness he could formerly have experienced on worldly paths. It is only now that he realizes what real ‘happiness,’ what true ‘blessedness’ is, and, in so doing, notices the paltriness of what by conventional standards must be considered satisfaction and happiness” (p.73).
At this point, I want to briefly consider the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of Heaven.” The poor in spirit are the humble, those who know deep in their soul that they are nothing without God, that God is the source of all that is good, true, beautiful and one. The poor in spirit are marked by an attitude of openness and dependence upon God. They come before God, as St. Thèrése of Lisieux suggests, with open hands, open to receive and to give, not to clutch and grasp.
Those who are materially poor have a serious advantage in developing this poverty of spirit. Because they cannot regularly buy their way out of life’s many trials or easily medicate their lives with entertainment and other distractions, they are more inclined to become aware of their profound dependence upon God. Pope Benedict describes these poor as the “people who do not flaunt their achievements before God. They do not stride into God’s presence as if they were partners able to engage with Him on an equal footing, they do not lay claim to a reward for what they have done. These are people who know that their poverty also has an interior dimension; they are lovers who simply want to let God bestow His gifts upon them and thereby to live in inner harmony with God’s nature and word” (p.76).
We know that material poverty is no guarantee of salvation or poverty of spirit. The materially poor can spend their lives totally focused on what they do not have, grasping for more things, hating the rich, spending all of their energies trying to amass treasures on earth and thus, failing to live with and for God. So, “the poverty of which tradition speaks is never a purely material phenomenon” (p. 76).
Lord, thank you for laying out a roadmap for us to find our way to you in the beatitudes. Pour out anew your Holy Spirit on us, especially through the grace of the Eucharist, and draw us into communi8on with you so that we may experience more deeply the beatitude you promise.
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